Discovered: Koshik the elephant can say "hello"; turning hurricane research into music; UK officials keep finding illegal waste sites; how to reduce livestock ammonia emissions.
The Korean-speaking elephant. But can he sign "Gangnam Style?" The University of Vienna's Angela Stoeger-Horwath has been studying an elephant that can speak a few words of Korean for the last six years. Koshik is able to say five words, including "choah," which means good, and "annyong," which means hello, as Arrested Development fans will already know. Stoeger-Horwath believes the elephant developed this ability because he was raised in captivity, starved for social interaction. Without other elephants to converse with, he reached out to humans by trying to mimic their speech. Elephants don't have the same vocal anatomy as humans, so instead of forming words with his lips as humans do, Koshik sticks his trunk inside his mouth. "Our research suggests that Koshik is somehow moving his vocal tract to mimic the characteristics of human speech," says Stoeger-Horwath. See the elephant hold a limited conversation with a trainer below. [New Scientist]
More illegal dump sites found in the U.K. The U.K.'s Environment Agency has found loads of rubbish where they don't belong. In the past three months, they've uncovered 400 previously covert illegal trash disposal sites, bringing the total number of unsanctioned dumping grounds the government knows about in England and Wales to 1,195. These sites cause lots of pollution, especially when the trash is burned. Many were found in close proximity to schools and homes. Organized crime is often involved in overseeing these dump sites, and Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith says, "The involvement of criminals in high-value waste crime is now a nationwide and worldwide challenge for enforcement agencies." [BBC News]
Listening to hurricanes. Pouring over meteorological research and crunching weather-related data is one way to understand storms like Sandy. Another way is to translate that information into music, which is exactly what Nathalie Miebach does. Based in Boston, she's a sculptor and sound artist who uses data from sources like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and turns them into 3D visualizations and musical experiences. The image to the right shows her take on Hurricane Noah, and this audio clip imagines what data on that storm might sound like, as played by the Axis Ensemble. "My work focuses on the intersection of art and science and the visual articulation of scientific observations," she writes in her artist statement. "Using the methodologies and processes of both disciplines, I translate scientific data related to astronomy, ecology and meteorology woven sculptures." Let's hope she uses Sandy as inspiration for her next project. [PLoS]
Curbing livestock ammonia emissions. U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers have patented a method that could help mitigate ammonia emissions in modern livestock operations. Controlling nitrogen is a crucial concern for farmers, considering that its the active ingredient in synthetic fertilizer. Ammonia molecules are made of one part nitrogen and three parts hydrogen, and by controlling the emissions released through livestock manure, the USDA researchers hope to siphon the salvaged nitrogen into useful fertilizer. "The system uses gas-permeable membranes that are similar to materials already used in waterproof outdoor gear and biomedical devices," the researchers write. "Using these materials, the scientists recorded an average removal rate from 45 to 153 milligrams of ammonia per liter per day when manure ammonia concentrations ranged from 138 to 302 milligrams of ammonia per liter." [USDA]